Testing the Top Ten Hikes Part Two – The Enchanted Rock

14 05 2009

A couple of weekends ago Chris and I and Chris’s mom decided to head out into the beautiful Texas Hill Country for another of the “Top Ten Hikes” according to Texas Monthly Magazine.  This hike consisted of the Loop Trail around Enchanted Rock and then, of course, heading up to the top of the main dome.  According to Hiking Texas by Laurence Parent, the dome is part of an ancient igneous batholith that covers about 100 square miles of the central mineral region of Texas, and is one of the oldest exposed rocks in North America with an estimated age of one billion years.

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We left our house on a Saturday morning around 7 and made it out to Enchanted Rock State Park by 9.  It had been raining in the days leading up to our hike but the weather held out for us, and even cleared up and got quite warm.  Enchanted Rock is definitely not something you want to do in the middle of the summer — I can’t imagine how hot it must get climbing up the dome in 90+ degrees (which, on the rock, probably feels more like 120!).

I’ve been out to Enchanted Rock twice before — once for another day hike, and once camping out in the primitive sites you have to hike to.  Both times it was cold and rainy.  I was excited to see the area on a warm and clear(ing) day.  Though we missed the peak of wildflower season, there were still some wildflowers here and there, and the moisture on the ground from the rains made for some beautiful shots. 

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Some of the cactus blooms were beginning to open too.

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I’m not even sure what this is, but I thought it was pretty…

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The Loop Trail is an easy hike that loops around the granite dome (around 4 or 4 1/2 miles long).  It follows Sandy Creek for almost a mile and then turns around the dome with small inclines here and there. 

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Once you make it around to the north side of the main dome, you’ll encounter lots of smaller rocks that I think make for some beautiful shots.  

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After we finished the loop, Chris’s mom headed to the shade to rest while Chris and I scaled the main dome.  While the trek up the rock is not long, it is steep, rising abruptly a few hundred feet.  Once at the top, the views are spectacular.

Chris at the top

Chris at the top

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And of course, the obligatory shot of us taking a break after reaching the top…

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What I like about this hike is the Hill Country setting — it’s beautiful out here.  The hike is a good distance — easy enough for a day hike but you can make it more challenging if you want to (by picking up your pace).  It’s hard to beat the views from the top of the dome, and really, the dome itself is really cool.  I also like how close it is to Austin.  If I had a complaint, it might be the crowds.  While we did not pass many people on the Loop Trail, the dome was crowded with all sorts of people…people wearing sandals (with heels!!) or flip flops and jeans who I’m sure must have turned around half-way.  Despite the crowds, though, I like the fact that people are out enjoying Texas parks, so I won’t complain too much about that.

After Chris and I came down from the dome, we headed back towards home — but stopped for lunch at possibly my new favorite burger place, the Alamo Springs Cafe.  This place was about 10 miles down Old San Antonio Road (just on the Austin side of Fredericksburg).  It’s casual, friendly, and the burgers were fantastic.  I had a burger with blue cheese, bacon, and mushrooms, onion rings, and a Fat Tire beer (probably not the most small-town Texas-y beer I could choose, but I think it’s a good beer and they were out of my first choice).  The burger itself was delicious, and they were very generous with the toppings.  The rings were sliced thinly and were fried perfectly with just the right amount of salt and pepper (which probably means they were fairly salty — I do like salt).  Chris had a cheeseburger with jalopeños on a jalopeño bun that had a touch of sweetness to it — according to him it was amazing.  Chris’s mom also got a cheeseburger and homemade chips.  Even the iced tea was great.  Next time I’m driving through Fredericksburg and I’m hungry, I’m definitely making a stop in Alamo Springs.

I only had my iPhone with me at lunch, so the photos are not that great…but I think it gives you a good idea of what I’m talking about.  Yummmm.

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Update — The Dinner

5 05 2009

The 10k challenge dinner turned out well.  Really well.  A perfect team collaboration to create a wonderfully balanced, slightly indulgent, and all-around thoroughly enjoyable meal.  For my part, I made potato gnocchi with a traditional basil pesto and an Italian loaf.

I’m getting better at making gnocchi.  Six large potatoes made more than enough for 13 people…

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I baked the potatoes roughly an hour in a hot oven, peeled them while still hot, and riced them.  I added salt and roughly a cup and a half or more of flour to about two pounds of riced potatoes (really this was eyeballed and then by feel) and worked the dough until it would roll into long snakes without breaking apart.  Once I rolled out about 20 snakes, I cut each one into 3/4 of an inch (or so) pieces, rolled each one off of a fork (apparently this not only makes it look the way gnocchi is supposed to look, but ensures the gnocchi cook evenly) and laid all of the finished gnocchi onto baking sheets covered in parchment paper. 

Next, I prepared the pesto.  First, I toasted pine nuts in a dry skillet until just browned. 

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Next, I toasted several cloves of garlic in their skins for seven or eight minutes and set those aside to cool.  I threw the pine nuts, cooled (and peeled) garlic, salt, and gobs of basil (that I had bruised with a rolling pin) into the food processor and processed until nicely chopped. 

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Next, I added olive oil and processed until smooth.  I poured this mixture into a bowl and stirred in finely grated Parmesan…

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and voila! 

The finished product (only slightly blurry):

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For the bread, I must confess I used the bread maker to prepare the dough (such a time saver)…but I formed the dough into a big ball and set it out to rise on an oiled baking sheet, glazed it with salt water just prior to baking, and sliced into wedges for the meal.

Rounding out the rest of the meal…

Mary stopped by Mandola’s, a wonderful Italian deli/cafe in the Triangle opened by the beloved Mandola family a couple of years ago or so (if it takes Houston coming to Austin to bring good food, I say bring it), and picked up a delicious variety of foods to create an antipasti plate.  We had two different cheeses, a Parma ham, lemon marinated sardines, olives, sundried tomatoes, artichoke hearts…most nights something like this could be my entire dinner.  But tonight, it made for the perfect way to start.

Amanda made two different salads to go with the meal — one Caesar salad and one mixed greens with a variety of vegetables.  I think everyone ended up eating both salads with dinner.  Carrie (with her husband’s grilling assistance) did the steaks, all cooked a wonderful medium rare to rare drizzled with a bit of the leftover pesto thinned with a bit more oil.  Once we started eating, I completely forgot about shooting the food…but I did manage this shot of my plate before I completely devoured it.

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Lastly, dessert.  Carrie made an absolutely delicious variation on Pastel de Tres Leches — I think we termed it Tre Latti due to the fact that she added a touch of Amaretto to the cake batter.  It was SO good.  The cake was perfectly moist, milky without being soggy, the Amaretto taste was fantastic, and the thick whipped cream topping, not too sweet, yum…… 

I have no doubt the guys could have created a delicious meal for us had we won the 10k challenge, but after this dinner, I have to say I think things turned out the way they should have, and if we happen to lose again next year…well, I’m ready to start thinking of the menu.